Shalom Ifeanyi, a former volleyball player for the University of Cincinnati, claims in a lawsuit that she was booted from the team because she posted Instagram pictures that the coach considered too sexy.
Those accusations are contained in a lawsuit that Ifeanyi filed in federal court against the university’s head volleyball coach and athletic director. She is accusing the coach of body shaming her by objecting to photos that contained a glimpse of her voluptuous form, albeit clothed. You can see the photos that sparked the conflict above and later in this article. More than 20,000 people have signed a petition urging the university to fire the volleyball coach.
The complaint alleges race and sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and violation of due process. Ifeanyi, 19, is seeking $75,000. The complaint was filed against Molly Alvey, individually and in her official capacity as head women’s volleyball coach at the University of Cincinnati, and Maggie McKinley, individually and in her official capacity as Executive Senior Associate Athletic Director at the University of Cincinnati.
The complaint is a civil rights action that challenges the defendants’ alleged “unlawful and gender and racially discriminatory removal of (Ifeanyi) from the University of Cincinnati women’s volleyball team because plaintiff did not fit defendant’s biased image of a University of Cincinnati volleyball player.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Shalom Says the Coach Didn’t Like Her ‘Seductive’ Photos
Shalom Ifeanyi was coveted by college coaches “because of her speed, power, strong build – similar to that of Serena Williams – and her ability to jump and ‘hit a heavy ball,’” the complaint says, adding that Ifeanyi had “developed a powerful volleyball strike that makes it difficult for an opposing team to return.”
Alvey recruited Ifeanyi in high school and “was aware of Plaintiff’s strong build and her dark, African American complexion,” the complaint says. Ifeanyi originally attended Oregon State university on an athletic scholarship but then explored transfer options. She was recruited to UC beginning in January of 2017.
“Almost immediately upon her arrival on campus, Alvey began harassing and shaming plaintiff about pictures she was posting on her personal social media accounts,” the complaint alleges, adding that the photographs all pictured Ifeanyi fully clothed.
Alvey is accused of telling Ifeanyi that “many of her photos were ‘too sexy.’” Volleyball players of “slighter build and light complexion” were not given similar requests even though they were pictured in two-piece swimsuits, the complaint says. She removed photographs and began to simply post head shots.
She also trained “relentlessly to recover from knee surgery.” The complaint alleges she missed no workouts and did extra rehabilitation work. On June 19, 2017 Alvey and Ifeanyi met in her office. The coach is accused of having closed the door, and demanding that Ifeanyi pull up her Instagram profile and remove a photograph from her profile, saying, “When the football players see this, what do you think they see? They see your breasts. It’s seductive.”
Ifeanyi deleted the photograph and left the office. On June 21, 2017, she received text messages demanding that she remove certain photos from her Instagram account, the complaint says.
She was awarded top performer of the week by the strength training coach during the week of June 24. On or about June 29, 2017, Alvey called Ifeanyi into her office and told her she was dismissed from the team and said they “had different philosophies.”
“When Plaintiff asked if her dismissal had anything to do with her text response the prior week, Alvey indicated that she read it, but would not discuss it further and offered no other reason for this devastating action,” the complaint alleges.
McKinley was present during the meeting and offered no reason for the dismissal, the complaint says, adding that Ifeanyi was told to return her school issued apparel and to remove all of her belongings from her dorm room because Alvey was giving her room to another student-athlete.
She filed a complaint with the Title IX office but nine months later, UC has failed to complete its investigation or given her any meaningful opportunity to appeal, the complaint alleges.
The university has declined to comment to media outlets.
2. The Team’s Coach Once Praised Ifeanyi for Her ‘Positive, Upbeat Personality’
A January 2017 press release announced Ifeanyi’s arrival on the Cincinnati team. “University of Cincinnati volleyball head coach Molly Alvey has announced the addition of Shalom Ifeanyi to the spring 2017 roster. Ifeanyi, who completed her freshman season at Oregon State, has enrolled in classes and will be training with the team leading up to the 2017 season,” the press release said.
“We are very excited to add Shalom to our team” said Alvey. “She has a very positive, upbeat personality and intense competitive spirit on the court. She will fit immediately into our program’s culture. I expect Shalom to score points at the net with her fast arm. She hits a heavy ball and is working on developing multiple shots to her game.”
According to her bio, Molly Alvey “was named the 12th head coach of the University of Cincinnati volleyball program on Feb. 15, 2012.”
“She completed her most prolific season as a head coach in 2016, earning American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year honors and leading her team into the NCAA Tournament,” the bio reads. “The Bearcats finished the season with a 22-10 record and a 17-3 mark in conference play, good for a second-place finish. Cincinnati earned the first NCAA at-large bid in American history when it was drawn into the Gainesville regional for the first round to face No. 16 Florida State.”
The bio continues: “Alvey played volleyball and basketball at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, earning her bachelor’s degree in economics in 2001. Alvey lettered all four seasons as a setter for the volleyball team and held the school’s career record for assists (4,340) until 2004. She helped her team to an 82-59 overall record during her career, earning all-conference honors as a junior and senior. As part of the basketball team she was an all-conference selection at point guard as a senior and held the single-season three-point percentage record at .456. Alvey was inducted into the Center College Athletics Hall of Fame in October of 2016.”
3. Exhibits in the Court File Contain Images of Ifeanyi
You can see some of Ifeanyi’s Instagram photos here. The court file contains photographic exhibits:
Another exhibit contains messages purportedly between the coach and Ifeanyi. It contains a message from “Coach Molly” that reads, “Shalom, please remove these pictures today.”
Ifeanyi wrote back, “OK Coach However I feel like I’m being body shamed bcause I’m not flat chested. I’m not trying to show my boobs coach, I can’t make them go away. In these pictures I just got my hair done and really liked my makeup and thought the pictures were pretty. My teammates have swimsuit photos that are more revealing than me in a tank top. I will delete them if you really want me too (sic) but I feel like because people say I’m pretty I’m being sexualized. There’s a history of black women because of their bodies being sexualized and that’s what appears to be happening to me. I can’t help the way I’m built. I am not trying to argue, I just feel like I have to be flat chested or real skinny in order to post.”
4. Ifeanyi’s Father Played Football at USC & in the NFL
Athletic skills run in Ifeanyi’s family; her father was also a college and professional athlete. According to the press release, her full name is Shalom Chimechi Ifeanyi, and she is the daughter of Israel and Amber Ifeanyichukwu. Ifeanyi has three sisters, Areli, Mya and Aamirah.
“Father Israel played football at USC where he was the defensive captain of the 1996 Rose Bowl Champion team, was a second-round selection by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1996 NFL draft and played in the NFL for six years,” the press release said.
Ifeanyi is currently living in Dallas, Texas. She has played competitive volleyball for most of her life. “Beginning around the age of 14,” she began “getting recruited by coaches to play college volleyball,” the complaint says. Her family did not have financial means to afford college, so she devoted a lot of time and energy to make herself eligible for college athletics and scholarship programs.
5. Ifeanyi Had a Lengthy High School Volleyball Career
Ifeanyi’s high school years were filled with accolades. The Cincinnati press release listed them:
“Back-to-back Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) state champion at Bishop Lynch (2012, 2013) … first team All-District and All-State (2013) … state championship match MVP and All-Tournament team (2013) … second team All-District (2012) … team Newcomer of the Year (2012) … West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) champion at Valley Christian High School (2014) … WCAL All-District (2014) … University Interscholastic League (UIL) All-District at Plano Senior High School (2015) … earned a silver medal for the United States at the European Global Challenge in Pula, Croatia (2015) … European Global Challenge U-17 All-Tournament team (2015) … two-time American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Phenom List (2013, 2014) … USA Volleyball Holiday camp (2013) and High Performance Beach Camp (2012) invitee … Texas Image Beach Tournament Champion (2012).”
Meanwhile, Ifeanyi can’t play competitive volleyball for the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules and regulations.